After wandering around in Maine for a while, we decided to settle down for a week or so and just enjoy the surroundings. We found a very nice place in Kennebunk and I would bike down each day down to Kennebunkport for coffee and a paper. After sufficient wandering and the occasional stopping on the roadside to gaze at the spit of land that houses the Bush 41 compound, it was time to find something else of interest. Laura, as usual, came to my rescue by locating an outdoor museum that was somewhat different. Like other times in the U.S., the era of electric trolleys was over 100 years ago. Covering around 1890 to about 1930; this time was a great social era where mass-transit was expanding from the traditional train to the Trolley. The museum is dedicated to the York County Electric Railway System that boomed in the county in the late 1900s. Built alongside roads, the rail system extended some 90 miles of track at its heyday. Carrying both passengers and freight, the line was instrumental in the development of the communities that it served. The popularity of the automobile spelled the end of the electric trolley system throughout the U.S. By 1946 the York electric rail system was the only one running in the state.
With ample parking available, it was a short walk to the entrance of the museum train station. This is a combination museum - ticket counter - gift shop. The pictures and artifacts throughout the room got us thinking about life as it was a hundred or so years ago. Soon it was time to get our tickets to ride (not required) and step aboard one of the several street cars which ran along the spur on a daily basis. Although there are street cars from around the world present, those from York County, Maine are the main focus. Our ride took us on the same path that was used between Biddeford and Kennebunkport. While riding along, our lively conductor told us many stories of life along the tracks. At one point he talked about how the trolley companies built recreational parks out in the country as a place where the City folk could go to enjoy the great outdoors, which increased traffic on the trolley especially on the weekends when fares were down. Later he talked about how the trolley companies would negotiate with land owners for right of way for their tracks. by offering to put in a stop on the property. As we came upon one of those crossings, known as Meserve's Crossing, our conductor expounded on the arrangements made between some land owners and the trolley men. The land owners would leave a shopping list and some money at the crossings on their property and the trolley men would pick up the list and go shopping in town while the trolley was being cleaned and turned around, keeping a small amount of the money for themselves. The trolley came with all the amenities of the old days including some great advertising along the walls.
Upon arriving back at the shuttle car stop we transferred to a smaller car and were off again. This was a delightfully open air trolley with original wooden benches. As it glided along I could hear the sound of the the electricity sparking over the wire connections above us. We soon arrived at our destination which was one of the large barns that housed most of the antique trolleys. All exited and headed in except me. I was fascinated by the conductor who had to reverse the direction of the trolley. This was done by just switching the power rods on top so that they were connected at the other end as to where they were when we came down. The car is capable of going in either direction but the power poles must always be to the rear, so the conductor must disconnect the ones on one end and connect the ones at the other end. This eliminates the need to turn the car around. The barn was huge, It must have been at least 100 yards deep. There were 4 sets of tracks laid down. Two at the outside edges of the building and another two down the middle. This created two walkways each between the outer track and the center two tracks. The tracks were filled with trolley cars of all all kinds of make and description, and from just about everywhere. They were parked so close together that I could not squeeze between them. Some of the trolleys were open and I could walk through them to get a true feel of the times. This was greatly enhanced by the assortment of running children that darted in and out of the cars. Almost every car had a plaque in front of it. Many came with old photographs showing the car when it was in service. There were far too many cars to talk about them. A few seemed to stand out more than others. Of all the cars in the barn, one stood out at the head of the line. "Old 31" which was owned by the Biddeford and Saco Railroad Company (1900-1939) was the last open-sided trolley to run a regular service in Maine. If that did not set it apart, then the fact that it was the first trolley to be preserved in the first ever trolley museum. Built in 1900, it was one of the first of 15 made and used to transport people from the factory towns of Biddeford and Saco out to Old Orchard Beach and the Ocean. With 60 seats and places for people to stand, and others who sometimes hung on the running boards. The hand-operated brake was a challenge for one man to stop the trolley. With the end of the streetcars in sight in 1939, a group of nostalgic riders organized a "Fan Ride" on "Old 31", hoping to raise enough money to buy the soon-to- be-disregarded relic. On July 5th, 1939, having accomplished what they had set out to do, the enthusiasts bought the trolley on its last day of operation and moved it to its present site thus creating what may have been the very first trolley museum. It was definitely the beginning of the Trolley museum movement. And so it went for the rest of the afternoon. We went from car to car, sometimes getting on them and sitting down. Sometimes I would sit in the trolley man's seat as if driving and collecting fares. I even took the winding circular stairway to the second floor of a double-decker from Europe. It was a fun way to spend the day and the price was well within acceptability.
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